Operators say enforcement will be key in curbing rising case numbers

Operators in the tourism industry, restaurants and retailers insist the success of new measures introduced to combat COVID-19 will hinge on the extent and effectiveness of enforcement efforts

Photo: Malta Police Force
Photo: Malta Police Force

Associations representing operators in the tourism industry, restaurants and retailers have welcomed additional restrictions introduced yesterday to combat the spread of COVID-19 with an eye on the carnival holidays next month.

The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, the Malta Chamber of SMEs, Association of Catering Establishments and the Chamber of Commerce have welcomed the measures, but insist enforcement will be key if the rise in COVID cases is to be curtailed.

Under the new measures announced by Prime Minister Robert Abela, restaurants must close at 11pm, and not open before 6am, while bars and clubs will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

From 11 to 17 February, all those on the Gozo ferry will have their temperature taken when embarking. While on board the vessel, people will be required to remain in their cars.

The ferry will continue to operate at half capacity. Abela, however, warned that while Gozo was not closed, "we cannot have a situation as in the past."

Police will also be making additional patrols in Gozo, including Nadur, Xlendi, Marsalforn and Rabat.

Malta Tourism Authority will also be making more regular inspections, to make sure people are following the protocols.

Abela also said that financial aid to bars and clubs will increase more than two-fold. He said that the aid being given will double from €1 million to €2.2 million. Details on this will be given by Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo by the end of this week, he said.

“In the coming four weeks, we have to continue with our lives, but also do what is necessary,” Abela said. "February has to be different this year," he said.

Prime Minister Robert Abela
Prime Minister Robert Abela

11pm closure not an issue for restaurants

Matthew Pace, secretary of the Association of Catering Establishments, said the government had acted cautiously and within acceptable parameters, while clearly remaining alert to any possible effects.

And although restaurants would now have to close at 11pm, many operators would not find the measure too intrusive or objectionable, this being the quiet season and the numbers of patrons being what they are, he said.

Pace said that the association was constantly encouraging its members to continue adhering to the regulations and restrictions introduced.

“And the vast majority of establishments are doing exactly that, knowing that only following regulations can ensure their economic longevity,” he said.

“And while a limited few establishments have been found in breach of regulations, it would be unfair to say they are representative of the whole sector, far from it.”

MHRA emphasises enforcement

The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association has insisted the secret to lowering the number of COVID-19 cases lies in effective enforcement.

The association was reacting to new measures announced by government for the month of February.

Restaurants will be forced to close between 11 pm and 6 am, with enforcement being ramped up in Gozo over the carnival weekend.

The MHRA said the relevant authorities must be adequately resourced and instructed to ensure that the rules related to COVID-19 and licensing are enforced across the board on an equal standing.

“Hotels and restaurants are already paying a hefty price due to the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic so it is important that Government focuses concrete action to ensure those betraying collective responsibility efforts are penalized as otherwise all the sacrifices borne by law abiding operators and citizens will serve for nothing,” it said.

The association said it consistently supported reasonable measures aimed at ensuring a balanced approach to the pandemic.

Malta Chamber of SMEs welcomes measures

The measures introduced yesterday were the right decision in the current circumstances, SME Chamber deputy president Philip Fenech said.

“The government had to find a balance between introducing tighter and more stringent health restrictions and safeguarding the economy and livelihoods of thousands,” he said.

And while welcoming news of stricter enforcement, Fenech noted how many law-abiding rental property owners felt they were being singled out, while those renting the properties could end up scot-free even if found to be in breach of the measures.

As to who would be held responsible in the case of infringement, Fenech said it would be unjust to sanction the property owners, when they could not know what the renters were doing all the time.

“Why charge the owner, if the renter decides to invite more people over than there are beds for on the property? The owner would not know what is happening.”

Fenech said he expected this to be made clear when details are revealed by Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo.

‘Enforcement will be key’

David Xuereb, President of the Chamber of Commerce, told BusinessToday that the new measures sent a loud and clear message that things cannot go unaddressed.

“The government is making it clear that we should not let things like carnival, Easter and others distract us from the elephant in the room,” he said.

“We are in the middle of a pandemic with high numbers of new cases and deaths being recorded and nothing should distract us from making sure people remain safe and healthy.”

Xuereb said enforcement will be key in ensuring the efforts the country as a whole was doing to mitigate the spread of COVID do not end up being superfluous.

“A strong enforcement exercise now, with those found in breach seen to be punished, will go a long way to showing how disciplined this country is, while also placating the anger of law-abiding citizens and businesses.

Vaccine roll-out

Abela also added that yesterday, 14,000 Pfizer vaccines arrived on the island and the government has green-lit the purchase of another 80,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine.

Health Minister Chris Fearne said that enforcement led to more than 8,000 fines.

Fearne said one of the reasons for the new restrictions was because a number of restaurants were still operating like bars. Fearne said the message was clear, “you go to restaurants to eat, not to drink,” he said.

Abela dismissed claims that there was a lack of enforcement on restaurants. He said that the rules that were in place previously made it possible for a person to “finish a meal and then stay on to have a drink.” He said that Malta was still much better off than other countries.

Fearne said that the health authorities also noticed that what could not happen outdoors was now taking place inside. This was referring to people renting accommodation in Gozo.  He said that licenses are there to be adhered to. Farmhouses should not have more people than listed.

Superintendent of Public Health, Charmaine Gauci added that the measures were based on lessons learned after a spike caused by gatherings during the Christmas period.

Earlier yesterday, the Health Department said that three deaths from COVID-19 were registered overnight on Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 258 since the start of the pandemic in March last year.

The health authorities recorded 193 new cases of coronavirus and 148 recoveries. There are 2,682 active cases of COVID-19.

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